Thanksgiving with More Peace, More Sincerity, and Less Waste
Relative: "You know, you should just use one of those big disposable aluminum roasting pans for the turkey. Makes less work - you just throw it out afterwards; you don't have to clean it."
Relative: "Oh, don't worry, honey. You'll learn!"
Well, it's been more than 15 years since the first big Thanksgiving dinner I hosted, and I guess I still haven't 'learned' anything. I've been reusing and cleaning that same large, heavy roasting pan the whole time.
A global pandemic and its concomitant loss of life, economic crises and loneliness, a roller coaster ride of an election year (to put it mildly) - what could go wrong with Thanksgiving 2020? On the bright side, smaller gatherings (or no gathering at all) mean that some folks will be able avoid their racist homophobic uncles who insist 'It's Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!' and the 'Sooo.....are you gonna try again to finally have a girl?" comments altogether. Suffice it to say, Thanksgiving, like other holidays at this time of year, can be a tremendous source of heartache and stress for many people for many different reasons, regardless of how many pollyannas offer up their Hallmark card-ish sentiments about 'Live, Laugh, Love' and togetherness. ("What?!" you say. "Are you an ogre? What's wrong with the Hallmark Channel?")
For some great tips on 'Surviving Thanksgiving with the Dysfunctional Family', head over to PsychCentral.
Make an honest appraisal of the family. It’s not new information that your mother doesn’t like your sister’s husband or your grandmother is going to want attention for her latest ache and pain. It’s not news to anyone that so-and-so has to be the center of attention or so-and-so somehow gets her feelings hurt every year. Instead of denying these realities, plan for them.
Not to be even MORE of a buzzkill, but increased risk of heart attack and cardiac arrest after big holiday meals is indeed a real thing. An unusually large meal can cause levels of triglycerides—a type of blood fat—to rise significantly, bringing inflammation that can lead to heart attack. And so-called holiday-heart syndrome, marked by the abnormal heart rhythm
of atrial fibrillation, or A-fib, can be brought on by overconsumption of alcohol. Mounting research suggests that difficult situations—arguments with relatives, for instance—can cause a surge in stress hormones that can damage your heart or lead to a heart attack (a condition known as broken heart syndrome, or Takotsubo syndrome). https://www.aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/info-2018/christmas-eve-heart-attack.html
Another source of stress is how much waste is created with the typical American Thanksgiving fare. According to the National Resource Defense Council, about 200 million pounds of turkey meat are thrown out over Thanksgiving week every year. Here's a few tips for making Thanksgiving less wasteful and more thoughtful.
Write it down! Think ahead of time about where waste is likely to come from, and plan for how you'll either avoid creating that waste entirely or how you'll sustainably deal with the waste you create. That planning can go a long way towards making waste reduction smoother and simpler.
Instead of utilizing the same fruits and vegetables for the Thanksgiving meal year in and year out, perhaps consider what is grown locally, and make those instead. Your local farmer's market, urban farm, or extension program is likely able to help you with this.
Consider not engaging in not-so-subtle self-righteous indignation or passive-aggressively picking on the vegans/vegetarians that may be at your table. I swear, not a year goes by that at a store, I overhear someone lamenting, "Well, my daughter-in-law/niece/neighbor's son/etc is vegan these days, so I don't know what to feed her." (The 'these days' is condescending, implying that you're so pained by dealing with what is surely a passing phase). If your table has the requisite 5-10 side dishes (or more) accompanying the bird, chances are they'll find something to eat. Trust me, your house is not the first place they've ever had to navigate that doesn't specifically cater to vegans. And if you haven't already done so, consider researching the environmental impact of industrial livestock production - the vegans and vegetarians are on to something!
Compost your peels and scraps - onion, potato skins, carrot tops, etc. Or better yet, don't let peeling everything be the knee-jerk reaction to the way you prepare veggies. Much of the nutrition is in the peel. Redskin peels are thin and much nicer to leave in your mashed potatoes than Russets. Some things must be peeled, of course - leaving the skin on a carrot, for example, can really change the taste for the worse. Here are some tips on which veggies you should stop peeling. https://www.tasteofhome.com/collection/14-fruits-and-vegetables-you-shouldnt-peel-and-9-you-should/ Keep a small compost bin in the food prep area/kitchen to make scrap collection easier.
Oftentimes, Thanksgiving recipes like stuffing call for fresh herbs. We purchase herbs from the grocery store in quantities that are far too large for how much we are actually going to use, and they end up rotting at the bottom of the crisper drawer in the fridge. Consider freezing the herbs in ice cube trays, or using herbs to make infused oils (but make sure you follow proper technique for infusing oils, as oils that are flavored with fresh herbs or garlic can be a source of food-borne illness—specifically botulism).
Avoid disposable plates, utensils, and cups. Yes, they're convenient. But conventional 'paper' plates are actually coated with a thin layer of plastic, rendering them unrecyclable and uncompostable. Disposable plastic cutlery is made of polystyrene and is also unrecyclable. if you MUST use disposables, use compostable disposables. if you're local, bring your compostable disposables to our compost drop off program. Or put them in your residential compost program bucket.
Don't buy too much food! Use this online Guest-imator to figure out how much food you'll actually need based on how many people you're expecting: https://savethefood.com/guestimator Planning leftovers because everyone loves taking leftovers home? Consider asking guests ahead of time to bring their own containers for taking home next-day turkey and stuffing.
Plan what you're going to do with any leftover turkey - and the carcass! Here's some great ideas: https://www.thekitchn.com/leftover-turkey-tips-from-the-kitchn-213224 The carcass can be used to make super-nutritious bone broth, or stock. And when you're done making stock or broth, you can compost the remains! Bring it to our Compost Drop Off program if you're local, or put it in your residential compost pick up bucket. Not local? Be sure to check with your compost program and make sure they accept bones and fats/meats. It is not advisable to compost these items in your backyard.
Before you go shopping, take stock of what you already have in your fridge and pantry to make sure you're not buying something you already have.
MORE SINCERITY & TRUTH
There is nothing 'trendy', 'these days', or 'new-fangled' about these ideas. In fact,
Traditional Native peoples are raised with this idea that we have a responsibility for our land, which means using all parts of a plant or animal, and fertilizing the ground with bones and shells so that food will regenerate. - Enrique Salmon, Professor of American Indian Studies at California State University, East Bay
While terms like 'zero waste', 'eco-friendly', and 'sustainability' are certainly modern buzzwords, these terms 'obscure the fact that environmental stewardship has long been practiced by Black and Indigenous Americans':
Black and brown communities have been resourceful as hell out of necessity, due to economic scarcity. These habits are passed down by family members and generations, and are part of tradition and healing and other elements of sustainability that are never discussed. - Dominique Drakeford, Sustainable Brooklyn
But you know what IS new? Throwaway turkey roasting pans, and the idea that convenience and appearing 'normal' are values that trump all others.
More sincerity and truth necessarily means less revisionist history. Put simply, revisionist history oversimplifies, and downplays or entirely eliminates all perspectives except those of one group. “If you don’t go along with the traditional story, you’re seen as a naysayer who’s spoiling the fun,” says Deborah Menkart, executive director of Teaching for Change. It's no secret that he story of the first Thanksgiving, as most Americans have been taught it — the Pilgrims and Native Americans gathering together, the famous feast, the turkey — is not exactly accurate.
Blame school textbooks with details often so abridged, softened or out of context that they are ultimately made false; children’s books that simplify the story to its most pleasant version; or animated television specials that not only misinformed a generation, but also enforced a slew of cringeworthy stereotypes. - New York Times
Consider making a new family tradition of debunking these rose-colored misty half-truths surrounding Thanksgiving and indigenous peoples. Some great resources for both kids and adults include: